Saturday, September 30, 2006

Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah 1 - Shemoneh Esrei thoughts

Earlier today, I was thinking about the 6 additions that we added to the Shemoneh Esrei of the last week.

In the first two brachos, each of the additions are of similar structure to the proceeding line. The addition to the first bracha is a prayer that we be remembered and written within the Book of Life. This follows an acknowledgement that HaShem remembers the kindnesses of the Forefathers in bringing a redeemer to their descendants. The bracha as a whole is known as Avos, emphasizing its purpose as providing an opening for us to even dare approach HaShem in prayer, by using the names of our righteous fathers as a passkey of sorts. Were it not for this "in", we would never be able to muster the pure gall to approach the King of Kings and to lay forth our requests, or even to praise him. Since the bracha already asks HaShem to recall our fathers' righteousness, we proceed to ask Him to remember us for life. The two types of memory, though, are of disparate types, as one is a passive memory of the past, while the other is an active memory of the present, more akin to a p'kidah. The addition, then, is the only request ever included in the first three blessings, which makes it somewhat odd.

The addition to the second bracha is a statement acknowledging HaShem's mercy. This follows a statement acknowledging HaShem's might. Both statements begin with the phrase "Mi Chamocha", "Who is like you?", acknowledging God's uniqueness. Once we have been granted permission to approach HaShem in prayer, we begin by praising His all-powerfulness, which is the reason why prayer unto Him is worthwhile from a practical standpoint. During these days, we also add in praise for his great mercy.

In the third blessing, the emendation is not an addition, but rather is a change, in that we switch the word "Keil", God, for "Melech", King, which emphasizes his specific interaction with us during these days. The theme of this blessing is God's "holiness", as well as that of His name and that of those who praise Him. This is the only time that we excise the word "Keil" from the Shemoneh Esrei. We do not make the change in the first blessing by "HaKeil HaGadol", ostensibly because the phrase was used by Moshe. Nor do we make the change by "Keil Elyon" immediately following, perhaps in order to keep the phrases parallel (I'm not sure if its use by Malkitzedek is significant). The word also appears in Shome'a Tefillah (ki Keil shome'a tefillah v'sachanun ata), Modim deRabbanan (Baruch Keil ha-hoda'os), and the end of the bracha of Hoda'ah (ha-Keil yeshu'aseinu v'ezraseinu selah), but is not changed in any of these.

The only change during the middle blessings is a switch from "Melech oheiv tzedakah u-mishpat" to "Ha-melech ha-mishpat", which seems to be a change from the theoretical to the practical for these days.

The blessing of Avodah is the only one of the 6 primary blessings that is not altered during these days.

In the bracha of Hoda'ah, we add in a prayer that we be written for good life (compare to the first blessing, in which the prayer was to be written in the *book* of *life* (with no mention of the word "good")). I have no idea how this fits in to the concept of thanksgiving, as the addition is a linchpin connecting a summation that God's name shall be exalted for all of the goodness that we mentioned in Modim and a generalization that all living things shall praise God. The insertion of this request line would bother me a lot less if we were consistent in inserting some sort of request in all 6 primary blessings.

In the last bracha, we conclude with a plea that we be remembered and written in the book of life, blessing, peace, and prosperity. The last blessing, about peace, is also a somewhat general request, so the insertion, changing the focus from a general request to a recording in the book, makes sense.

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